Front Cover of the Karl Hӧfner 1937 Catalogue.

Walter Hӧfner’s First Archtop

There was one other guitar in the 1931 Hӧfner Catalogue in addition to the twelve flattops, and that was the 501H Hawaiian guitar model. Furthermore, this was labelled in the English language section as a “Novelty”, which throughout the years has been the name given by Hӧfner to their new models. We therefore know that Hӧfner’s first archtop, for that is what this guitar was, must have been introduced in 1931.

The first mention of a Hӧfner arched top guitar - the 501H model in the Hӧfner 1931 Catalogue on the right.

The Gibson Company in the USA had been producing guitars with carved arched tops since the earliest days of the company in the 1890’s. The strength of this type of top allowed the use of steel strings without the necessity for heavy bracing. Initially these Gibson arched-top guitars utilised the traditional round sound-hole with more often than not a glued-on combined bridge tailpieces. The L4 model with its 16” wide body, trapeze tailpiece, and individual non-adjustable bridge appeared in 1912. However, it was not until 1922 that the Gibson L5, the father of all cello-style archtops, was introduced. This was equipped with two F-shaped sound-holes, an adjustable bridge, and a revolutionary new adjustable neck truss-rod. Hidden away were two tone bars – lengthwise bracing as on a violin.

So what had prompted Walter Hӧfner to produce a cello-style archtop? Well, as we have concluded in the previous chapter, the Hӧfner brothers were almost certainly kept informed of the developments in the US, albeit maybe a few years late due to the remoteness of Schönbach from the rest of the world and also the poor standard of communications in the early 20th Century when compared with things today. After he did finally receive news of this new style of guitar, it would have occurred to him that these guitars had very similar construction details to the orchestral instruments that the Hӧfner Company had been producing for many years. His professional pride would then have convinced him that Hӧfner could make such guitars as competitively if not more so than some of the other Schönbach instrument makers who had by now also discovered the “archtop guitar”.

Therefore, Hӧfner produced a similar looking guitar to Gibson’s L5 with a carved spruce top and almost certainly solid maple back and rims, the traditional violin tone-woods that were already in abundance in Hofner’s lumber shed.  Unfortunately, examples of this model have not come to light, but from the catalogue illustration it would appear that the body was probably smaller than the L5, maybe around 15” width, with celluloid binding to neck and body edges plus mother of pearl inlays to the headstock and as fret markers. Rather strangely, the text description in the catalogue offers a round sound hole as an option to the two f-holes shown on the illustration. Perhaps Walter was covering against the possibility that the L5 in America was in fact not as popular as the round sound-hole L4 model that had pre-dated it.

The Archtop Range Develops

As with everything else that he undertook, Walter Hӧfner, no doubt encouraged by his brother, threw body and soul into this undertaking. Our next glimpse into the Hӧfner Company must be in 1937, quite simply because that is the year of the next surviving product catalogue available to us. By that stage, although the 501H model had disappeared, a total of nine archtop cello-style guitars were being offered. Furthermore, the number of flattop acoustic and classical guitars on offer had almost doubled.

The cello-type archtop guitar model range was now as follows in the 1937 Hӧfner Catalogue. (By the way, take note of those model numbers – they do tend to keep reappearing in the future.):


Body Top

Back & Sides







Dark stain/varnish finish.





Plywood Pickguard, Simple dot markers, little ornamentation.





Celluloid Pickguard





Celluloid bound Pickguard, Pearl inlays to headstock


Arched Birds-Eye Maple

Arched Birds-Eye Maple


Blonde Finish. Inlaid Headstock; block fretmarkers


Arched Mahogany

Arched Mahogany


Painted design on body top. Pearl block fretmarkers


Arched Rosewood

Arched Rosewood


Purfling to body edge. Large pearl block fretmarkers


Carved Spruce

Carved Curly Maple


Bown Golden Sunburst Finish. Binding to body top, neck & headstock


Carved Spruce

Carved Curly Maple


Violin varnish with golden sunburst finish to top and back. Fully bound & purfled. Ebony fingerboard.


Hӧfner catalogue descriptions can be rather vague to say the least, even more so back then. However, it is assumed that the description “plywood” referred to a three-ply laminate of a plain appearance softwood timber such as spruce, maple, or perhaps cedar. This was obviously intended for the budget models in the range, which were finished in a simple overall dark stain and varnish. The appearance of the timber would therefore be of little importance as it would be hardly visible.

c1937 Hӧfner Primus Model 462 Archtop Guitar.

During this period, Walter Hӧfner had displayed his innovative talents by adapting moulds and presses for the company which were initially intended to produce laminated tops and backs for double basses, hence allowing the much quicker production of these instruments which were now being called for in greater numbers due to their adoption by popular music bands in addition to just the classical orchestras as previously had been the case. Of course, this innovation resulted in cheaper prices. The appearance of guitars with laminated body timbers in the 1937 catalogue therefore should not be totally un-expected. It has been suggested that another luthier in Schönbach called Franz Hirsch had actually used such presses for producing lower priced guitars for bulk export to the US and UK even earlier than Hofner. Herr Hirsch however was a highly respected luthier who had been making top quality carved top archtop guitars during the 1930’s, and who during that period actually acted as tutor and mentor to Wenzel Rossmeisl who became famous with his “German Carve” Roger brand of archtops, and whose son Roger Rossmeisl went on to work with the Rickenbacker and Fender companies in the US.

“Laminated” body timbers do have the advantage of being resistant to splitting of course. This point was made by Hӧfner in the catalogue: “These guitars will stand in tropical climates”.

The “Arched” timbers referred to in the catalogue may well have been pressed solid pieces of tone-wood, or perhaps three or five-ply laminates with the outer laminates being formed of either tone-wood, mahogany, or birds-eye maple as was certainly the case after the Second World War.

 “Carved” timbers were obviously reserved for the top quality guitars, which in 1937 were the 468 and the 470 models. These guitars, which relied entirely on craftsmanship rather than pressing machines, could well have been made by other luthiers living in Schönbach on behalf of Hӧfner, who then marketed the finished products as their own.

 By now, Hӧfner seem to have moved up to a 16” body width standard, which fitted in with US design philosophy. However, the name on the headstock was not Hӧfner, but “Primus”. We can only guess why this was; perhaps guitars were considered by the older generation of the Hӧfner family to be slightly brash and not very respectable, when compared to their grand orchestral instrument heritage. It could well be that father Karl didn’t want the Hӧfner name on them.

The use by Walter of exotic laminates such as mahogany, rosewood, and birds-eye maple on some of the cello-models was the beginning of a trend which continued for many years with the Hӧfner Company. Such tone-woods, albeit usually in the form of solid timbers, were being used generally on the flattops made by the US companies, and also on some of their earliest cello-style archtops, but by 1937 Gibson, Epiphone, and Gretsch were tending towards using just maple for their archtop bodies.


So, where are all these Hӧfner Primus Guitars then?

That is a problem. With the exception of the one shown in the photo at the top of this page, there just don’t seem to be very many left these days for us to examine. Our main source of information are the poor quality photos in a few old catalogues. OK, a large part of Europe was devastated during the Second World War and literally millions of people were cold and starving both during and for a few years after the war…guitars do actually make good firewood! Was that the fate of many Primus guitars? The Hӧfner Company did have a buoyant export market before the war with instruments, probably including guitars, being exported to such major players as St Louis Music in the US and also to Asia. There are therefore possibly a few examples lying about in America, but nobody over there would probably take much notice of them; Gibson yes, Primus no.

There is one way of getting something of a feel for what Hӧfner were producing before the war, and that is to look back at what was being made by the remnants of the Hӧfner Company immediately after the war for the State-owned company called “Cremona” that was set up by the new Czech regime at the time when the expulsion of most of the Germans from their country was getting under way.

The Cremona Company took over the Hӧfner workshops in Schönbach, together with all the jigs, presses, tools, and any drawings still in existence. The model names used by Cremona match up with those used by pre-war Hӧfner, and these vaguely match up with the quality levels adopted for each model. The 455 for example was a simple plywood archtop, but with strip fret-markers instead of the dots used previously. Likewise, the body of the Cremona 465 is made of rosewood or mahogany timbers.

Archtop Models and Descriptions as set out in the September 1947 Cremona Price List:


Catalogue Description

Cremona 455

Plywood, arched top & back, dark shaded, F-Holes, tailpiece, adjustable bridge.

Cremona 456

Back & top of plywood, dark brown, shaded, inlayings around top, F-holes, pearlette finger-rest, adjustable bridge, tailpiece, pearl inlays on peghead.

Cremona 463

Back of maple, spruce top, carved back & top, dark brown, shaded, fine inlayings, around top, pearlette finger-rest, good machine head, adjustable bridge, excellent workmanship.

Cremona 465

Arched back & top from rosewood or mahogany, fine inlayings around top, pearl inlays in fingerboard and neckhead, good quality adjustable bridge, pearlette finger-rest.

Cremona “Artist Grade”

Choicest materials, finest fittings, very best masterwork, ideal solo-instruments, prices on application.


 (Note: Following the move of the last remaining members of the Hӧfner family to Germany in 1948, as will be described in the next paragraph, the Cremona factory seems to have been split into two workshops - a larger one which produced the cheaper models, and a small one dominated by a master luthier of German-extraction called Alfred Bräuer, and later his son Manfred. Alfred had been invited or persuaded to stay behind from the general exodus to Germany, and he was employed producing top-quality carved-top cello guitars, such as the 465 and “Artist Grade” models. Quite a few of the post-war “Cremona” archtop guitars have survived, and are becoming collectable instruments these days.)


The Archtop Guitar Develops.

The archtop cello guitar was now becoming the dominant guitar for playing the popular music of the 1930’s. Jazz combos, “Swing” orchestras, and other bands making popular music invariably had a guitarist in the line-up, crouching over an archtop guitar and attempting to play chords as loudly as possible in order to be heard over the other much louder instruments. The size of guitar bodies had been steadily increasing in an attempt to increase the volume, firstly to 16”, then to 17”, with finally with 18” bodies being introduced first by Gibson in 1934 with the “Super 400” model, followed by Epiphone’s “Emperor” with its huge 18½ body in the following year. A large bodied acoustic archtop can turn out quite a high volume, but not in comparison to brass instruments and drums! There had to be another solution!

The answer arrived just before the stage when these new guitar models became too large to play. Early electrical amplification began in the mid-1930’s, initially for Hawaiian guitars. The Hawaiian playing technique using single strings and chords on two or three strings was forgiving enough to allow the simple amplifiers used initially. Full blown 6-string jazz chords were just too much for these first amplifiers. However, pickups and amplifiers improved quickly, particularly under the Gibson banner, so that by 1939, electric archtop guitars were finding their way into professional use in bands and orchestras. That was the year that one of the most famous names in the electric guitar Hall of Fame, Charlie Christian, started playing his electric Gibson with the Bennie Goodman Sextet.

Charlie Christian was one of the first to realise that with amplification, he could play solos at the same volume as the brass instruments Perhaps therefore it is no coincidence that Gibson produced archtops with an optional body cutaway from 1939 onwards.

Hӧfner of course were running a few years behind the US companies in the development of their own range of archtops. Without having very many pre-war examples of Primus guitars to study, it is difficult to ascertain whether any archtops with 17” and 18” bodies were made. However, no reference is made in the 1937 catalogue to any model having a “large body”, which almost certainly would have been the case if a model had a lower bout dimension greater than approximately 16”. Bearing in mind also that it was a few years after the war when Walter Hӧfner developed his first production pickup, it is highly unlikely that the Company could have offered an electric option on the Primus range. Finally, as Gibson themselves didn’t offer a body cutaway until 1939, Hӧfner would also not have been aware of that particular development. By 1939, Walter and Josef Hӧfner had other more weighty matters on their minds.

Hӧfner Primus Model 464 Archtop Guitar (Catalogue Scan). 

The Second World War.

Since 1918, directly after the First World War, Schönbach lay in an area known as the Sudetenland which had been annexed to lie within the new country of Czechoslovakia. The politics and history of the Sudetenland are complex and out-with the scope of a book about guitars. However, the crux of the matter was that this area was populated by a mainly German-speaking population, who nonetheless lived in reasonable harmony with the Czech people and got on with their own business, which in the Schönbach district happened to be making stringed musical instruments.

With the rise of Fascism in Germany, with its highly nationalistic doctrine, Adolf Hitler took the view that the Sudetenland should be part of Germany. This opinion was to some extent approved by many of the Germans living in the Sudetenland. Finally, the annexation of the Sudetenland was accepted by the International leaders, and the German army moved into that area in October 1938. Unfortunately, Hitler didn’t stop there, but continued into most of the rest of Czechoslovakia as well, an action which when followed by the invasion of Poland led to the Second World War in September 1939.

Walter and Josef Hӧfner were very soon conscripted into the German army. Walter’s wife, Wanda Hӧfner and old Karl Hӧfner himself, were left to look after the family business. Of course, links with the vast majority of Hӧfner’s export markets around the World were severed for the duration. Very soon, the Company was under orders to commence war work – the manufacture of wooden soles for soldier’s boots and packing cases. The downfall of the once proud Hӧfner Company in Schönbach was now inevitable.






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